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    Pillar of the Superhero Community

    SATURDAY PUZZLE — Look, we all know it’s Saturday and you’re going have to wrestle with the crossword for a while, but this is definitely a grid you’ll wind up shaking hands with at the end and maybe even taking out for lunch. It’s affable. It’s the first Times collaboration between two constructing veterans, Christina Iverson (now a puzzle editor here) and Doug Peterson (who has made 55 prior puzzles for us).

    What stumped me? Mainly, a bunch of misdirects in the top half of the grid and some unfamiliar trivia. What struck me, though, was the broad range of pop culture references, not a single one of them boring or stodgy, and some terribly goofy puns.

    15A. This clue — “Geographical inspiration for Strauss” — is specific enough that you might imagine the strains of “An der schönen blauen Donau,” Op. 314, better known as the BLUE DANUBE. It makes for pleasant solving music. My only complication was at 4D, where I thought the “Long part of a bouzouki” was a “nose,” not a NECK, because I was confusing a lute with a hound.

    34A. This is the puzzle’s showpiece entry, a debut (of course). The “Defiant declaration popularized by the drag queen Bianca Del Rio” is NOT TODAY SATAN, which first appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

    14D. On a Saturday, when a clue prompts an oddball word, I go with it; ergo my choice for “Car-washing equipment” was “chamois,” written with confidence. Instead we are using our far less exotic WET RAGS.

    36A/38A. This is a classic highbrow Saturday combination. 36A, “Most of the English force at Agincourt,” refers to a battle in the Hundred Years’ War that was fought between the French, armed with swords, and far fewer English BOWMEN. Directly beneath this entry is 38A: “‘Goddess of the loud hunt,’ in Homer’s ‘Iliad’.” It solves to ARTEMIS, who is also the Greek goddess of archery and is often depicted carrying a bow and arrows.

    26D. “What might be heard before a bust” is funny. I thought of a police sting — “Hands up!” — which didn’t fit; then, a stock market collapse. The reference is actually to a casino and the last thing a gambler might say before losing it all: HIT ME.

    31D. Forgive me for fawning, but this is a great entry. The gritty “Bootlicker’s specialty” solves to KOWTOWING, a form of a loanword from the Chinese for “bumping one’s head,” as one might when genuflecting.

    36D. Holy déjà vu, batman: This is the third time this entry has appeared in recent years, all on Saturdays. I was still stymied by “Pillar of the superhero community,” which sounded like a person but was really a BATPOLE (there are two, of different sizes).

    Christina: Doug and I used to work together on the Los Angeles Times crossword, where I was Patti Varol’s assistant editor and he was (and still is) a fact checker. I work for The New York Times now, but we still text regularly about crosswords and our Duolingo quests.

    We have made a few puzzles together for other outlets, but this is our first collaboration in the Times. We were discussing what seed entries to use and we considered EMBIGGENS or NOT TODAY SATAN. Then I said, “I don’t know, WHY NOT BOTH?” And that’s how we ended up using all three 🙂 This puzzle came together more quickly than any themeless puzzle I’ve made.

    The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.

    For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”

    Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

    Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.

    What did you think?

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